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Timeline: Malcolm X

1925-1954 | 1955-1965  


Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940 May 19: Malcolm X is born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, the fourth of Earl and Louise Little's seven children. Earl, a Baptist minister, is a follower of Marcus Garvey's black nationalism and serves as Omaha chapter president of Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association. Louise Little serves as the division secretary.


December: The Littles leave Omaha and move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


The Littles move again, this time to Lansing, Michigan. Settling in a white neighborhood, they are sued for eviction on the basis that a restrictive covenant prevents their home from being sold to any non-Caucasians.

November 7: The Little house is burned to the ground. No fire wagon is dispatched to the scene. Looking back Malcolm believes that a local white supremacist group was behind it.

December: Earl Little moves his family to East Lansing and builds a new home there.


September 28: Louise has a premonition about her husband and asks him not to leave the house. Later that night, Earl Little is killed in what police term a streetcar accident, but Malcolm later says that the Ku Klux Klan was behind it. After Earl's death, his wife and children struggle to make ends meet and must apply for public assistance.


December 23: Louise Little is diagnosed as mentally ill and sent to the Kalamazoo State Mental Hospital, where she will stay for 26 years.


The state places the Little children with various foster families, and Malcolm, who has been kicked out of school in the seventh grade, is sent to a juvenile home in the nearly all-white community of Mason, Michigan. He does well at school there, earning straight A's and being elected president of his 8th-grade class, but his teacher discourages him about pursuing his goal of becoming a lawyer.


Summer: Fifteen-year-old Malcolm visits his half-sister Ella Collins in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and is entranced. "I couldn't have feigned indifference if I had tried to," he later says. "I didn't know the world contained as many Negroes as I saw thronging downtown Roxbury at night."


February: Ella Collins gains custody of Malcolm and he moves to Boston. Over the next few years, he works a number of odd jobs on railroads, in restaurants and bars, at shoeshine stands, and in a jewelry store. Malcolm learns to dress like a hipster, dyes his hair, and starts hustling in Boston (where he's known as "New York Red"), New York (where the nickname is "Detroit Red"), and Detroit.


October 25: Malcolm, who has responded to his draft notice by loudly proclaiming that he wants to "fight for the Japanese" and kill whites, is found mentally unfit for military service and classified 4F.


Malcolm has his first run in with the courts. He is sentenced to four months in jail and one year of probation for larceny.


December: Malcolm, who has moved back to Boston, goes on a stealing spree with his black friend Malcolm Jarvis and three white women, one of whom he has been dating.


January: Malcolm tries to retrieve a stolen $1000 watch from a pawnshop and is arrested and charged with grand larceny, breaking and entering, and firearms possession. He is convicted and, along with Jarvis, receives an eight-to-10-year sentence. The white women have their sentences suspended, but Malcolm's girlfriend serves seven months in prison. The women refused the police suggestion to charge Malcolm and Malcolm Jarvis with rape.

February: At the age of 20, Malcolm is sent to jail in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and assigned prisoner number 22843. He will remain behind bars until 1952.


Malcolm is transferred to Concord Reformatory for fifteen months.


Malcolm is transferred to Norfolk Prison Colony in Massachusetts.


Malcolm meets a fellow convict he calls "Bimbi," who convinces Malcolm to study and learn to develop his mind. In Jarvis' words, in prison "the only way we knew how to rebel was to cram some knowledge into our brains."


Malcolm's siblings, four of whom have converted to Islam, introduce him to the words of the Nation of Islam's leader, Elijah Muhammad, who is himself in prison for sedition and violation of the draft laws. The two men correspond, and Malcolm continues his course of study, eventually writing to the Massachusetts governor and demanding the right to practice Islam in prison. He also joins the prison debate team and begins attracting attention for his oratory.


Malcolm is denied parole.


August 7: Malcolm is released on parole, spends one night with Ella Collins, then goes to Detroit to live with his brother Wilfred. He quickly joins the Nation of Islam and attends meetings at Detroit's Temple No. 1, one of the four temples that the Nation operates at the time. Malcolm rejects the surname "Little" as a slave name given to his family by white oppressors, and he becomes known as "Malcolm X." Dismayed that the Nation of Islam is not attracting more followers (at the time, total nationwide membership was about 400), Malcolm begins an intensive recruiting campaign with Elijah Muhammad's blessing. Soon membership in the Nation begins to soar.


August: Having tripled the membership of the Detroit temple in under a year, Malcolm is appointed assistant minister there.

September: Elijah Muhammad sends Malcolm back to Boston to serve as first minister of its Temple No. 11. He goes on to organize temples along the East Coast, including in Hartford and Philadelphia, attracting new members wherever he speaks.


June: Elijah Muhammad gives Malcolm his highest appointment to date, chief minister of Harlem's Temple No. 7. In Malcolm's words, "For Mr. Muhammad's teachings really to resurrect American black people, Islam obviously had to grow, to grow very big. And nowhere in America was such a single Temple potential available as in New York's five boroughs." Thanks in large part to Malcolm's charisma and tireless recruiting, within the next five years membership in the Nation of Islam swells to 40,000 and supports 49 temples.

1925-1954 | 1955-1965  

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